Hi all. I’ll start with an apology. It’s nearly two years since I sent the last Mixtape newsletter, which itself ran for over two years and some #114 volumes. After making that many playlists and sending them out in a weekly newsletter, I was burned out. I needed a break. I thought it would be short term, and yet here we are. I’m sorry.
The good news is that I’m back, but with a new newsletter. “Transatalanticism” is a collaboration with my friend Ryan Broderick, who lives in New York. During the six years we’ve known each other we’ve always shared music – often emo, punk, and post hardcore – from the sublime to the incredibly obscure. Transatlanticism is celebration of that. Each fortnight, we’ll give each other an album to listen to and review, and we’ll have a conversation about our choices.
Issue #1 is out now, and I think it’s a lot of fun. If you liked discovering new music via Mixtape, or if you’re a fellow emo kid who never grew up, then Transatlanticism is definitely for you. You can subscribe here, it’s totally free.
I’ve included Issue #1 below, so you can see what you’re signing up for.
Hope you choose to join us.
Issue #1 - Brave Little Abacus and The Protomen
Two very different "concept" albums
Every other week, Ryan🇺🇸and Dan🇬🇧give each other an album to listen to and then talk about it. Most of these albums will probably be some form of emo (at least to start). Yes, we are aware this would probably work better as a podcast.
Ryan: I am dying to know what you thought about Brave Little Abacus, because I feel like they do a lot of things you like, but in ways I'm not totally sure you like.
Dan: I think you meant to say, "hello and welcome to the first ever Transatlanticism."
Ryan: Oh right. See that's how excited I am.
Dan: I had a lot of feelings about Brave Little Abacus, some of them are good.
Ryan: Hi! Welcome to the first Transatlanticism!
Dan: Named after the Death Cab for Cutie album.
Ryan: Wait, actually I want to go against what you just said and say that, legally, neither of us have ever heard of Death Cab For Cutie.
Dan: No, I don't know what that is.
Ryan: Any similarities to this newsletter's name and a seminal mid-00s indie rock album is completely by accident. OK talk to me about your first thoughts with Brave Little Abacus. I’m dying.
Dan: I feel like you punched me from across the pond, via the musical stylings of Brave Little Abacus.
Ryan: Yes. What did you think about the Malcom In The Middle interludes lmao.
Dan: Haha is that what that was? They were a sweet relief tbh. My first thoughts were legit, "oh god what have I agreed to." I feel like every fortnight I'll get an album no one has ever heard of, but you saw performed in the basement of a church on Long Island circa 2010.
Ryan: Sadly, I completely missed seeing BLA live. They basically dropped this album and a (VERY GOOD) EP and then disappeared forever. But weirdly enough, a lot of newer American emo bands are citing them as a huge inspiration.
Dan: It makes complete sense, they are doing a lot, and doing it well but also they are DOING A LOT so it took me a few listens to come around.
Ryan: My first reaction to hearing them was assuming none of the musicians involved could hear each other.
Dan: I want to know what you think of The Protomen, the world's first and only Mega Man-inspired rock opera
Ryan: OK so. Dan, tell me how off the path I am here, but this album is the second in a suite of concept albums about Mega Man??? It was produced by Meat Loaf's producer. And no one knows who is actually IN this band??
Dan: I basically took all your prompts and went. "fuck it here are The Protomen." I think they know they are in the band. But yes they all have band-specific names, and wear robot apocalypse-inspired costumes on stage
Ryan: This album had a lot of surprises for me, but I think the biggest one is that it was recorded in 2009 and not in like 1993.
Dan: So I gave you Act II of a 3-act rock opera. Act 1 came out in 2006, Act II was 2009. We are still awaiting Act III. It sounds like Jim Steinman fucked a Nintendo. Jim Steinman writes Meat Loaf’s songs, in case you're not up on your 80s rock iconography
Ryan: Oh interesting, my reference point was: What if the Transformers tried to unionize their steel factory in 1930s England. But Meat Loaf fucking a Nintendo is also extremely accurate.
Dan: So they used Mega Man as a spring board to write a rock opera about the robot apocalypse. All the characters featured in the games Mega Man 1-6, but this album is actually a prequel to the events of Mega Man 1. So they made most of it up. Love, betrayal, robots... I can't get enough. It was less of a challenge to you, and more of a gift like giving you a part of me.
Ryan: I feel like me giving you a math rock album about Malcolm In The Middle and you giving me a rock opera about Mega Man is actually a great introduction for our readers.
Dan: I mean the Malcom In The Middle thing has really thrown me. I may need to rewrite my review based on this. Have all the band member seen Malcom In The Middle? Have all the band members met each other?
Ryan: So I've sorta tried to keep this band a mystery to myself. I feel like they work best as like a bizarre find instead of a band I know anything about. That said, I did find a video of their last show and it seemed like a good time.
Dan: I would not be surprised if the main guy didn't tell anyone else what the concept was, and had them write and record their parts in isolation. But I'm not saying it doesn't work.
Ryan: The whole sound has an extreme New Hampshire Knights Of Columbus hall with no working PA vibe to it.
Dan: What are those long island men's clubs, Antler Clubs or something. It's like the rotary club but with more dead animals?
Ryan: Elks Club! I went to an incredibly grim karaoke on Christmas Eve at an Elks Club in Peabody, Massachusetts with my dad once.
Dan: It's like a show you'd put on at the Elks Club after hours, because your uncle is an Elk and no one knew what math rock was.
Ryan: That is the exact vibe of Brave Little Abacus, yes.
Dan: I am the uncle. Confused, a little drunk, but not mad.
Ryan's album for Dan:
TL;DR: Sounds a bit like Daniel Johnstone formed a post punk band
Tell me more: "Just Got Back From The Discomfort..." is the second and final album by The Brave Little Abacus and the only one available on Spotify. This is maximalist music. This is kitchen sink punk. It's like the band knew this would be their last gasp so threw absolutely everything they could at it, and kept it all whether it stuck or not. Horns? You bet. Synths? Absolutely. Math rock time signatures? Speed metal kick drums? Bleeding vocal chords? Yes, yes, and yes. It's all here. The opening 5 tracks are less a wall of sound, more a tsunami. It's like a giant wave crashing over you; a chaotic, primal, inescapable force of nature.
It's almost unpleasant on first listen. But there's method in it, and when the swell settles by track 6, when you get a moment of calm, the chance to breathe, you start to hear something else: A kaleidoscopic, spinning carnival of sound. Hectic, yes, turning and tumbling around itself, but never tripping up, and punctuated with moments of searing beauty and quiet.
I wasn't kidding about the Daniel Johnstone comparison. Singer (and guitarist and drummer) Adam Demirjian is from the "can't really sing, but REALLY FEELING IT school of vocals". After the initial barrage, once you start to empathise a little, when you catch a lyric here and there, you realise that all this noise has intention. The horns, the chimes, the echoing refrains. This is the sound of a heart breaking. Wholly and unrestrained. Behind all the virtuosic genre-skipping, this is an emo album, and I can respect that. I'm not sure I like it – I mean, there are moments I absolutely love – but it doesn't need me to like it. It made me feel something, and it did so while not quite sounding like anything else. High praise for an album that attacked me, unprovoked.
Favourite song(s): Can't Run Away ("When I say I'm sad I mean it...") & Bug-infested Floorboards ("Because I'm shallow okay... I want them to like me")
Emoji rating: 💥🎷💔 out of 5
Dan’s album for Ryan:
TL;DR: It sounds like Nick Cave made Welcome To The Black Parade
Tell me more: I went into The Protomen's Act II: The Father of Death without any information. Which, it turned out, was a bad idea! The Protomen are an eight-person (at the moment) music project about the Mega Man video game franchise. Their members have names like Shock Magnum, Commander B. Hawkins, and K.I.L.R.O.Y. The Father Of Death is, as its name implies, the second act in a still-unfinished three-part rock opera. I've heard Dan talk about The Protomen before, but I didn't immediately connect what I was listening to with a "Mega Man rock opera." When you think of what a Mega Man album would sound like, I assume, like me, you'd imagine something closer to Horse The Band's "Birdo" — which is to say, where's the chiptune?!?! (Their first album The Protomen has a lot more chiptune in it.)
This album is not video gamey. There is synth, but sounds closer to Stan Bush's (incredible) soundtrack to the 1986 Transformer movie than it does a Mega Man game. It's also extremely earnest. The album was made with Meat Loaf producer Alan Shacklock and, boy, can you tell. The whole thing oscillates between being dope as hell and sorta cringe almost second-by-second.
From what I've read, The Protomen's whole storyline is a dark and dystopian prequel about the events directly leading up to the Mega Man franchise. I definitely got that from the album, there is this sense of an impending apocalypse arriving in lush neon. But also Protomen songs are long and you have to wait almost 13 minutes into The Father Of Death to get to the Good Stuff. Everything before "The Hounds" and after "Light Up The Night" could be hacked off and you'd probably have a perfect album. That said, I'm not sure a band with almost a dozen people in it that have been working on a three-album rock opera over the course of almost two decades are particularly interested in restraint.
Favorite song(s): “The Hounds,” “Breaking Out,” “Keep Quiet,” and “Light Up The Night” are legit bangers
Emoji rating: 🤖😕⏰ out of 5
Ryan: So I figured each week we'd both pick a track from each album to add to what I assume will be a wildly schizophrenic playlist. What's your pick for BLA? What's going on the list?
Dan: I'm going with "Can't Run Away".
Ryan: Oh wow! The chill funky one.
Dan: It's track six, and it doesn't feel like you're being ear-banged by math nerds who learned guitar on youtube. It was the first song where I felt like I could breathe. what are you choosing?
Ryan: I've been real torn about this because "Keep Quiet" and "Light Up The Night" are basically the best two tracks on the album, but they also sound totally the same and might even technically count as one 11-minute song. But I think "Keep Quiet" is my pick. Wow this playlist already doesn't make any sense. I love it.
Dan: It's the sound of our friendship, Ryan. Maybe the sound of all friendship
Ryan: Maybe if we do this long enough Spotify will have to intervene and be like "lads, can you stop?"
Dan: Chaps. Come on. You're breaking the algorithm.
Ryan: I mean, I feel like that's the whole point of this newsletter. Death to the Discover Weekly. Read these dummies instead.
Dan: If people read this far then maybe we're on to something.